Recent reports show that childhood stomach-aches are being linked to anxiety. So studies show that kids who have frequent stomach upset are more likely to develop anxiety in the future, but the truth is, kids are feeling anxiety now. Why? Well, let’s couple this information with the knowledge that in nearly every home across America there sits at least one if not multiple television sets. This is becoming more and more the ‘norm’ in most every country in the world today. Children are being exposed to television much sooner and spending more time in front of it than ever before. If you have children or have spent time around them, you know – they are sponges, picking up everything they hear, say and feel and broadcasting it back in their own unique style. How do we cope with childhood anxiety and is it linked to high levels of television watching?
The first time I sat down with my two year old with the thought of letting him watch some television, it was a new moment for us. We had never had the t.v. on for this little guy when he was younger, and I was more interested in finding out if some of the learning shows which were available might be helpful. I had not been a big television watcher for years, so part of me was skeptical and worried about sitting down with this young mind to expose him to such a world, but it was an experiment.
Having sat with him through every event, day in and day out his whole first two years, the fact that I was so tuned into what he was receiving as impressions and how much they might be affecting him only became clear after turning on the television. At first the images were slow and gentle for this little one to behold. As we experimented with different shows I became acutely aware of the effect of faster paced images on the young mind. The first time it happened, all the flashing pictures and massive streams of data coming through the screen, I felt bombarded. I knew that I had not been exposed to the television in so long that I was vulnerable to such input, but it made me feel even more aware of how it might be for this little person who had never before witnessed such things.
The more television a child or any person is exposed to, the more desensitized they are to the impact it has on them – though they are still being affected. According to the University of Michigan, television watching among kids is at an eight-year high, reporting that most children ages 2-5 spend on average 32 hours per week on the tube. Kids 6-11 years old spend around 28 hours per week including video games and DVD’s though 97% is live t.v.
In The Future of Children Princton-Brookings Journal it is reported: “Evidence is growing that the fear induced in children by the media is sometimes severe and long-lasting. A survey of more than 2,000 elementary and middle school children revealed that heavy television viewing was associated with self-reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.“
My six year old has sometimes reported feeling ‘stressed – out’ or ‘anxious’ and I am flabbergasted. How can someone so young feel stress, I wonder? My realizations always point me to correlate his times of ‘stress’ with frequent television exposure. It seems a cycle that is often hard to break for parents who feel they are at a loss for how to keep their kids busy. The answer can be easier than throwing out the television – though that is a good start.
Coping with childhood anxiety
The quickest and fastest medicine for childhood anxiety has always been a good walk in nature. Being in the natural world, void of electronics and the never-ending informational input has a soothing quality for anyone. Kids are especially sensitive and responsive to whatever is being ‘fed’ to them. If they are receiving a large amount of digital information at ‘high-speed’ connections, they seem to act in a similar fashion. However, if and when you can get a kid out in the dirt, playing in the grass, sand, soil and water, their attitude and energy changes remarkably. Nature is the best medicine for television induced anxiety.
Just like any other addiction, coming off of massive doses of television watching can look much like a withdrawal, because it is. When a person, especially a young person, gets conditioned to receive a high input of data without much output, there is a mental and physical response, just like eating sugar. On the flip-side, when those things are removed, the ‘need’ for them continues, at least in their minds. When weaning a child off of television a measure of anxiety and rebellion, fits and perceived discomfort should be anticipated – even for up to several weeks. The child may claim boredom or ‘not feeling well’ and beg to have the t.v. back. I am not suggesting the television has to be dropped cold-turkey, but there is window of time that seems to be ‘the norm’ in terms of releasing said addiction. I know I have experienced this cycle many times.
Often, as parents, we don’t know what to do with our kids, especially if we work from home and many of us have used the television as both a babysitter and a crutch to parenting even when we would prefer not to. The amazing thing is – kids are resilient. Once they are introduced to the world ‘without t.v,’ and they adjust through the withdrawals, a new found creativity begins to emerge which I think is normal and natural for children, and really all of us.
Returning to Creativity
Kids that can spend time outside, as mentioned above, will have an easier time reconnecting with their creativity, post television-addiction phase. Exposure to the elements, the fresh air, the wonder of the natural world all work together to retrain the mind and body how to access inspiration and creativity again. Just ask any artist, writer, or painter. When experiencing ‘writers-block’ or ‘creative blocks’ for those who depend on such inspiration for a living, the natural world has always been a place to turn in order to reconnect with ‘the flow’ and begin to access pure potentiality once again.
We live in a time where kids are being tested for adult anxiety while in the first and second grade. This is not a good sign for the future of the world. Something must be done to turn the tides and shift the energy toward sustainable health and living, and one of those things is to turn off the television and revisit nature.
As a parent, it can be challenging to make the positive changes that may be necessary in order to help our kids avoid anxiety and stress, though if and when we do, we are rewarded with more helpful, positive and respectful children. Somehow nature teaches the ethics of life and humanity subliminally the way television hints of violence, disrespect and laziness.
How do we cope with all the research and experience linking childhood anxiety to the increase in television exposure? We can take steps now to remove the cause and replace it with real life interaction. Sometimes it is ‘too cold’ to be out in the elements playing and learning…but even in inclement weather we can teach our kids how to live in the world and find creative solutions to what limits us. Television is a tool that ought to be used to benefit our lives on the occasion when it can uplift, teach and inspire and not as a crutch to living in the world of beauty and diversity.
Written by: Stasia Bliss